Trustworthy Mississippi Birth Injury Lawyers Protecting Children with Kernicterus

We hold doctors responsible for improperly treated jaundice in your baby

As the parent of a newborn, you may be told that your child has jaundice. This may sound scary, but in most cases it’s nothing to be concerned about. Approximately 60% of babies born in the United States have some amount of jaundice in the days following birth. Jaundice, a yellowing of the eyes, skin, and tissues, typically goes away within a few days as the liver does its work and the baby continues normal development. Kernicterus, however, is a severe form of jaundice.

Kernicterus is a rare condition and fully preventable if an obstetrician properly monitors an infant’s bilirubin levels. Bilirubin is an orange-yellow substance made during the normal breakdown of red blood cells. It passes through the liver and is eventually excreted out of the body. High levels of bilirubin indicate liver problems. Excess bilirubin can travel to a baby’s brain and cause permanent brain damage. If your child was diagnosed with kernicterus, the birth injury attorneys at Merkel & Cocke, P.A. can help hold the right people accountable and seek compensation for your child’s injuries.

Improperly treated jaundice and kernicterus

Jaundice is caused by excess bilirubin in the blood, also known as hyperbilirubinemia. During pregnancy, the mother’s liver removes bilirubin from the baby. Many children are born with slightly under-developed livers, which means they can’t remove enough bilirubin from their blood on their own. Premature babies are at a particular risk for jaundice, as their livers are still developing. This is of special concern here in Mississippi, which happens to be number one in the nation for premature births. Jaundice usually makes itself evident in the first few days of a newborn’s life.

Because jaundice is such a common condition, all doctors and obstetricians should be aware of it, and most hospitals test newborns for jaundice before sending them home. Typically, babies are tested when they’re three days old and again when they’re about a week old, as this is when bilirubin levels are highest. In the majority of cases, jaundice goes away naturally, with minimal or no treatment. However, when jaundice becomes severe and isn’t treated properly, it can lead to the rare condition kernicterus.

What are the symptoms of kernicterus?

When a baby has severe jaundice, the bilirubin in their system can pass into their brain, which causes a condition called acute bilirubin encephalopathy. If this isn’t treated promptly, it can lead to permanent brain damage, or kernicterus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discuss symptoms your newborn may exhibit and when to seek medical attention.

You should see your baby’s doctor the same day if your child:

  • Looks yellow or orange, with skin color changes starting from the head and spreading to the toes
  • Is difficult to wake up or won’t sleep at all
  • Won’t breastfeed or suck from a bottle
  • Seems extremely “fussy”
  • Isn’t producing enough wet or dirty diapers

Get emergency medical help if your baby:

  • Is crying with a high pitch
  • Is arching their neck and body backward
  • Has a stiff or limp body
  • Has a fever
  • Has strange eye movements

Untreated jaundice causes severe injuries

When a baby’s jaundice goes undiagnosed and therefore untreated for a long period, the child can sustain severe injuries and possibly permanent brain damage. Children with kernicterus may suffer a permanent upward gaze, hearing loss, cerebral palsy, under-developed tooth enamel, learning disabilities, and, in tragic cases, death.

Risk factors for jaundice

A doctor should be aware and prepared when there is an increased risk for jaundice. Some of these risks include:

  • Premature babies. Children born before 37 weeks are at a higher risk for jaundice, as their liver isn’t yet fully developed.
  • Babies with darker skin color. Yellowing of the skin may not be noticed in children with darker skin. Doctors should check the gums or inner lips to detect jaundice, or perform a bilirubin test.
  • Families of East Asian or Mediterranean descent. Babies born to East Asian or Mediterranean families have a higher risk of jaundice. Some genetic conditions can put children at a higher risk as well.
  • Difficulty feeding. Newborns who aren’t eating or dirtying their diapers well are more likely to have jaundice.
  • Sibling(s) with jaundice. If a child’s sibling had jaundice, they have a higher risk of developing it.
  • Bruising at birth. A baby with bruises at birth is more likely to develop jaundice. The body’s healing of large bruises causes high levels of bilirubin to occur.
  • Blood type. Women with blood type O or Rh negative tend to have children with higher-than-normal bilirubin levels.

Jaundice is a very common and treatable condition in newborns. It is absolutely unacceptable for any child to suffer life-long injuries and complications from something so preventable. When this type of medical negligence affects your child, the impact can disrupt the entire family and have crushing emotional and financial repercussions.

Our Mississippi birth injury lawyers fight for the rights of your child

When your new baby is injured due to medical negligence, the birth injury attorneys at Merkel & Cocke, P.A. are here to step in and make things right. Our legal team has worked for decades to hold medical professionals accountable for their mistakes, and work to secure compensation to make families whole again. We provide services from our home offices in Jackson, Oxford, and Clarksdale, and work with clients throughout Mississippi, including Tupelo and across the Gulf Coast region. We also handle cases in Tennessee and Arkansas. Please call us today at 662-627-9641 or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation.